Neither rain nor dark of recession will deter SRI St. Petersburg's debut today
Wake up and good morning. Rainy day though it may be, this morning is the official ribbon cutting ceremony and public debut of the new, 37,000 square foot SRI St. Petersburg building (photo, below) at 450 8th Ave. SE on downtown St. Petersburg's waterfront, just a stone's throw from the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science. The promise of innovation, specifically marine technology, is in the salt air. And in SRI Florida director Larry Langebrake's (photo, above) clear enthusiasm for what's ahead. Here's my column on today's opening of SRI.
Anticipating wet weather, SRI will hold its ribbon cutting not on the adjacent pier as planned but inside a large room overlooking the water. It was only a couple of months ago that Draper Lab -- kind of a kissin' cousin of SRI for its like ability to turn basic university research into cutting edge, commercially applicable products -- did its own ribbon cuttings (two in one day, in Tampa and St. Petersburg). Maybe we're being spoiled by such things in such short order but they are bright economic lights in a tough Tampa Bay recession.
When I sat down with Langebrake earlier this week, one worthy comment I did not put into the print column was his salute to Peter Betzer, the former dean of St. Petersburg's USF College of Marine Science and Langebrake's mentor for many years when he also worked at USF. Langebrake obviously feels he would not be where he is today, and SRI would not be opening its doors on St. Petersburg's waterfront, without the leadership and passion expressed by Betzer over the years. Betzer, now retired from USF, heads the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, a local economic development group, where he continues to beat an enthusiastic drum for the fledgling technology cluster that is starting to emerge here with SRI, Draper and other firms. This last photo, taken a few years ago, shows Langebrake, left, with Betzer standing on the site of what today is the official opening of SRI St. Petersburg. The local office of architecture firm HOK designed the $11 million facility, complete with labs, machine shop, offices and hangar bay. (HOK also designed the nearby Salvador Dali Museum, viewable from Langebrake's office, now under construction.)
There's some impressive scientific, innovation and economic development potential emerging here. Let's keep up the momentum. Today's St. Petersburg Times editorial echoes similar wishes.
(Photos: Langebrake and building by Cherie Diez; Langebrake and Betzer by Lara Cerri. St. Petersburg Times.)
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist